The Functional, Social and Emotional Value of Fashion Products Explained

The Functional, Social and Emotional Value of Fashion Products Explained

Customers are never buying what companies think they are selling them.

The fashion industry is an aspirational industry and as such, products are often bought not for what they are but for what they represent. 

As a fashion marketer, it is important to consider how we should never focus on the product as a tangible item, but always market the value that customers find in its ownership. 

In this post, we’re going to explain this concept by delving into three different dimensions of value that connect to fashion products by exploring functional, social, and emotional dimensions of consumer behavior. 

With no further ado, let’s get right into it.

The Functional Value of Fashion Products

The functional value of fashion is connected to the functional needs of fashion customers. 

These needs are connected to the practical use customers make of our products and services. 

In the context of fashion, these products are usually mass-market products that are in many cases quite inexpensive and provide us with the most basic functional benefit of clothing, which is sheltering us from the weather and cold. Or helping us endure the heat at the beach.

To some extent, these needs are connected to Maslow’s Pyramid of lower-tier needs, like the ones connected to physiological needs. 

When customers are on the market for the functional value of fashion, they can be easily swayed by low prices and bundle offers, as the goal is to optimize spending and make the purchase experience efficient.  

By looking at the segmentation of fashion markets we can easily see that only brands at the bottom of the pyramid compete for these products, as their inexpensive nature does not allow for a high-profit margin, and the most profitable approach to selling these items is by connecting them to high production outputs that can create economies of scale. 

As these needs are commodified, many brands try to increase their profit margins by providing something more enticing such as products that have clear social benefits. This is what we’re going to explore in the next section of the post.

The Social Value of Fashion Products

The social value of fashion products is connected to the social needs and social aspirations of customers.

In this context, fashion brands fulfill a very important role, as fashion products gain value in the customer’s eyes based on their social recognition. 

Customers often – if not always – use fashion products as social currency, usually for one of two reasons. 

  • To fit in, or show belonging to a particular group. For instance, we may buy a tuxedo to attend a gala dinner, as an opportunity to show belonging and respect for the formalities required by a particular social event. 
  • To stand out or make ourselves get noticed. Purchasing a unique or extravagant item could be a way to set ourselves apart and help us distinguish ourselves from the mass.

In both cases, we talk about the expendability of this social dimension of fashion in the so-called “third place”. 

Let’s see what these “places” are and what they mean in fashion.

  • The first “place” is our home. In this “place”, our family knows us personally and our fashion style is unable to provide them with a different opinion or impression of us.
  • The second “place” is our work or school. In this context, our style can be more influential on people’s perceptions but overall, in time, people know us regardless of our fashion looks.
  • The third “place” is a social environment where people don’t know us. This could be at a coffee bar or at the theater or at a party. In these environments, it’s likely that our fashion appeal can strongly influence the impression we make on people. 

Social needs are associated with middle-tier brands such as bridge brands, and diffusion lines, which benefit either from the trickle-down value of high-end brands or from strong trendy communications. 

But what about the top of the fashion pyramid? 

What kind of value do luxury products bring to the market?  Let’s see in the next paragraph how higher-end brands are able to bring to market emotional values.

The Emotional Value of Fashion Products

At the top of the fashion pyramid, where we have the highest product value, due to the luxury dimension of fashion, we have access to the brands with a high emotional component. 

These brands are able to address customers’ emotional needs.

These needs are satisfied through products that have such a strong reputation and heritage, that the simple fact of owning them, makes us feel proud and part of the brand’s legend. 

These needs are usually satisfied by luxury brands that are exclusive and aspirational, as the simple fact of owning these luxury products is a strong social signal. 

Because of this emotional drive, these products need to be aspirational and exclusive, if they become too accessible they may completely lose their aura of prestige. 

This is why brand managers in luxury should always avoid brand dilution, by making the product too easily available. 

The benefit of selling these types of products is connected to the idea that our customers are “purchasing a feeling”, and a feeling is really hard to price. 

This means that luxury brands can use this emotional tie to sell a product with a very high-profit margin

Based on what we have discussed, we can see how it’s not necessary for your brand to imbue your products with as many functional, social and emotional needs, on the contrary, the value of the product could connect to even only one of these three. 

What is necessary, however, is that you are aware what it the value your customers are buying from your brand, so that you can focus your communication accordingly.

Great, now that we’ve explained the matter in detail, we can move towards our conclusive remarks.


There you have it. In this post, we’ve explored three different dimensions of the value connected to consumer behavior in fashion. 

As we connect with customers, it is mandatory for our brand to always bear in mind what it is exactly that our customers want to buy from us. 

If we don’t focus on the benefits they are expected to gain from their purchases, we’re going to have a really hard time selling them anything at all. 

If you’d like to explore more the marketing framework that created this distinction between functional, social, and emotional values, this article is perfect for you. 

In it, we explore Jobs to Be Done as a marketing theory that goes to the heart of what customers want.

Moreover, the understanding of this foundational marketing concept can be seen in a variety of business strategies pursued by luxury companies, who are able to use the functional, social, and emotional benefits of their products to create collections focused on each and of these dimensions. 

If you’d like to read more about this, here’s an article on Giorgio Armani that addresses this relevant fashion business topic, by developing a collection portfolio where each collection is differentiated by the value that the brand is bringing to market.

If you’d like to explore fashion business further don’t hesitate to explore our blog where you can find a wealth of resources for your needs in the creative industries! Enjoy!

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The Functional, Social and Emotional Value of Fashion Products Explained What are the Functional, Social and Emotional needs of fashion products? In this post, we're going to explain how companies can focus on the value of their products to engage their customers.
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